The Rye Time for a New Beer Style
on 10/03/12 at 11:22 amBeer
THE RYE REVIVAL IS HERE. Bakers are returning to the hearty grain for rich, dark breads. Cocktail heads demand rye whiskey in their Manhattans. And now, a growing band of brewers is turning to the complex, earthy spice of rye for a new take on the strong flavors craft-beer drinkers have grown to love.
Rye whiskey may be old—America’s first, they say, was distilled at Mount Vernon in the 1790s—but rye beer, at least in this country, is a new idea. In the European rye belt, above the 50th parallel, give or take, where the rugged grass flourishes, rye beers are more common. Germany has its roggenbier (imagine a muskier hefeweizen); Russia has weak, beer-like kvass, made from stale rye bread (look for it peddled in soda bottles in Russian enclaves like Brooklyn’s Brighton Beach).
We don’t have such history here. In American brewing’s early days, a barrel of whiskey brought more at market than the same of beer, so for farmers liquefying their assets, so to speak, stronger stuff made more sense. Plus, as any baker knows, rye makes a soupy dough. The grain has no husk, unlike barley, and it has plenty of oily proteins. It’s a chore to brew. Bear Republic’s Hop Rod Rye takes about a quarter more time to make than their other beers. “It’s a labor of love,” said the company’s head brewer Peter Kruger.
Thankfully, a little rye goes a long way. Nutty and spicy, with undertones of light but juicy fruit—some taste apples, or even Calvados—rye works best as an accent, a dash of spice to add kick to standard styles. Great Divide uses it to punch up a classic German märzen. Upright’s Six and the Bruery’s Rugbrød are brown-bread dark. Jolly Pumpkin used rye to give a tannic bite to a Belgian tripel; Devil’s Canyon dosed a saison.